The Way Children Learn, Drawing on the Findings of Research


Caregivers can only contribute to the child’s life by providing a nurturing environment. This powers the brain development and learning ability of the child. Initiating children to opportunities for learning after they have been raised appropriately makes them happy and well-adjusted. Every experience in a child’s life is preparation for the next and they are interdependent. This means that the primary learning experiences are the foundation for more complex ones in the future.

A child is born with an empty slate but with a brain. It is a child’s experiences that etch on that brain. Learning takes place at the age between birth and three years than any other time in the child’s life. Learning is however dependent on the amount of learning experiences that a parent provides. The more experiences, the more the learning. Children are also actively involved in the search for learning experiences. They make use of their senses actively and ask very many questions (Carini 1986). This helps them to understand the environment and the activities around them.

Theories that explain child development and learning

There are many theories that attempt to explain the way that children develop and learn. Some of these include the constructivist theory by Piaget, environmentalist theory and maturationist theory.

Constructivist theory

This theory was advanced by Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsy and Maria Montessori. For each of the theories there is a common context in the explanation of learning and child development. They all believe that the greatest part of learning in children occurs when children interact with their surroundings and the people in their lives. For the constructivists, young children are active participants in the process of learning. They also hold the opinion that the children set off a majority of the activities that are required in order to learn and develop. They therefore believe that since vigorous interaction with surroundings is essential for learning and development, then children are ready to get into school once they are able to begin the interactions they have with those around them and their surroundings (Piaget 1969).

For educators who are influenced by the constructivist theory, a lot of attention is paid to the environment and the early childhood curriculum. The nursery school classes are divided into sections each with equipment that is appropriate for the children’s learning and manipulation. The adults in the lives of these children are involved in active conversation with the kids and the latter move from section to section enthusiastically. The daily learning experiences are made more significant by incorporating the children’s experiences into the curriculum (Piaget 1969).

Piaget adds that parents contribute to the learning experiences of their children by providing them wit books that have pictures accompanied by big prints and toys that promote learning such as puzzles and blocks for building (1969). They also involve the children in reading and storytelling besides encouraging them to take part in house chores that introduce school concepts like counting and the use of language.

Difficulties in learning should not be handled through reprimanding the kid but rather by paying caring attention to them. This is often done by tailoring the curriculum in such a way that it addresses these problems. Though most educators have begun to believe in this theory, it has not really been put into practice. People believe that a child should only be ready for school once they can count, recite the alphabet and follow instruction.

On the other hand, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is built from observation of children and their ability to make out the world around them. From this, he came up with a model of four stages that explains how the mind processes data encountered. He was of the opinion that all children develop through the stages in the same order (Piaget 1969).

The sensorimotor stage is the stage between birth and the age of two. The child interacts with the environment and is able to form an understanding of itself and reality. It has the ability to make out the difference between itself and other things around. It learns through assimilation and accommodation (Piaget 1969).

In the second stage that is the preoperational stage, from two to four years of age, the child classifies objects by looking at the outstanding features.

The third stage is the concrete operations stage that lasts from age seven to eleven. There is accumulation of physical experiences and accommodation. The child can think in an abstract manner and create logical structures from their experiences with the environment.

In the last stage, the formal operations stage, children of eleven to fifteen years of age are able to make rational judgments through deductive and imaginative reasoning. He reasons in a way close to that of an adult.

In his theory, Piaget (Piaget 1969) was interested in the development of knowledge in humans. He argued that cognitive structures are patterns of mental activity or mental activity which trigger explicit intelligence acts and which match his four stages of child development. For him, the continue interaction with the environment is what enables solving problems that are presented by the environment. Knowledge, he asserts, is not inborn but is the result of the constructions of a child. Development is attributed to accommodation where the child the child adjusts to the environment. Assimilation happens when action happens without necessitating any change in the kid. The two concepts might be different but Piaget believes they occur simultaneously.

Piaget’s theory helps us to use methods of teaching that will actively involve the child and present them with challenges. Theory helps us interpret activities in the classroom as opportunities for learning.

Maturationist theory

This was the idea of Arnold Gessell. For him, development is biological process which is automatic. It occurs in stages that are predictable and chronological. The point of view makes teachers and parents believe that their children will learn naturally and mechanically as they grow older as long as they remain healthy (Theories of child development).

For proponents f this theory, a child gets ready for school when that time comes and it is preceded by the ability to count and recite the alphabet. This is to prepare them for such learning activities as reading and mathematics. Maturationists therefore encourage the parents to be contributive to their children’s learning by teaching them recitation of the alphabet and counting umbers. They therefore suggest that if the child is not ready for school, then they should be kept away until they are ready as this will come naturally (Theories of child development).

Environmentalist theory

The proponents of this perspective to learning are John Watson, B. F. Skinner and Albert Bandura. Like the constructionist, the environmentalist believes that a chills environment is what influences their learning. They conclude that learning, development and general human behavior are environmental reactions. Hence, for educators, the environment is of great importance in the learning experiences of children (Theories of child development).

They argue that a child gets ready for school when they are at an age that they are capable of responding to the environment at school and the classroom. This environment is characterized by curriculum activities, rules, regulations, instruction and positive conduct in groups. The child can then be said to be ready to receive learning instruction. This implies that the child learns through instruction from the teacher and other adults in its life. Those who believe in this theory suppose that rote learning is appropriate for children, which means memorizing instruction like the alphabet and numbers. It is applied by most teachers at pre-school level where the children are made to listen to their instructor attentively and repeat after her or him. They also trace numbers from stencils (Theories of child development).

The parents contribute by encouraging the child to trace or copy alphabets and numbers and use color to draw. This does not encourage active interaction between the child and the parent. Difficulties in learning are interpreted as learning disabilities and the corrective measures are geared towards control of behavior and response.

Whole Piaget believes that a child learns through various stages of development, Vygotsky holds the opinion that learning precedes development. He believes that learning is an important aspect of the development process which creates culturally organized human psychological functions. Learning is therefore the prelude to development. Vygotsky opinionates that social interaction and language are the primary factors that promote learning. As Silverman (2003) pus it, language is what enhances social interaction and sharing of experiences. A child’s innovative knowledge is got by interacting with other people. It is only later that the child absorbs and internalizes it and masters at a personal level.

Vygotsky defines the teacher as the more knowledgeable other. This is the person that has greater understanding of concepts and processes. The teacher could an age mate, sister, brother, younger person or naturally the adult. All they need to have is more knowledge about a particular issue than the subject they are teaching (Silverman 2003).

How children learn

From the theories described, it is apparent that children have the ability to learn different subjects at different period in their lives because of the genetic inclination, age and social learning environment. While older children have a better reasoning ability, young kids have better memory than their older counterparts. Young children are amore active physically and visually while older children use their reasoning argument more.

The most enjoyable part of learning for a child is when that child can master the activity they are interested in. It is therefore the responsibility of the teacher or the parent to start from simple concepts and activities and then move on to more complex ones once the child has had some success with the previous. The adults also ought to create safe learning environments so that instead of being distracted, the child will try hard to learn. This should in addition to care and respect for the child (Carini 1986).

The learning environment for a child is diverse. While one might find some environments ordinary, the child learns from school, the shop, the hospital and the home alike. It is interaction that matters most. They also observe the adults and try to imitate their behavior. In actual fact, the highest influence in learning is from adults.

Children learn differently. There are preferred ways of learning even among adults. Howard Gardner has come up wit seven multiple intelligences. These are interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, musical, spatial, linguistic and logical-mathematical (Wragg 2000). Teaching becomes more effective once the teacher has identified the style of learning a particular child prefers. This should then be incorporated into the teacher’s style as is appropriate.

Learning through playing

Play is the major method through which children learn. The recurrence of play reinforces old concepts while new skills are encouraged. The mind functions best when open. Children’s minds are open during play since they are enjoying. At this time, they are approachable and relaxed and are therefore able to learn more. The teacher is encouraged to pick on activities that the children will find fun in and both she and the children will have a good time (Ruiz,).

During play, children test the ideas that they are developing using the play objects, play partners and the situations of play. Furthermore, they are able to develop different types of skills that include physical, emotional, social and language skills. Their motivation to learn is derived from performing activities that interest them. During play, concepts and skills are developed simultaneously. In a classroom, one of the basic learning concepts is writing one’s name. This involves the use of sounds. The child learns to write their name while at the same time learning the idea that every letter is a representation of a sound. This is very motivating for the child. They are likely to remember such a concept learnt by doing things that are interesting (Dewey 1956).

Children learn well when they are needed to memorize verses and work out arithmetic problems (Dewey 1956). The teacher is obliged to make children use their brains for reasoning and should therefore provide problems to be solved every day. Practice in this case makes perfect.


Children also learn by using their imagination to make substitute representations of other objects and people. A child might try to behave like a certain animal during play. They could also pretend to be their teacher and do what they see her do. Through this kind of representation, the child can easily memorize concepts (Dewey 1956). This enhances their imagination and they are able to envisage other related and complex concepts and ideas.

Role play

Children also use play to expand their language skills. By pretending to be older people, they play out their roles. This means that the child attempts to use the language that is used in particular situations by the people they are imitating. Through, this, they learn new words and the use of different language structures in different contexts. They could also do this by telling stories among themselves. This promotes oral language skills which in turn are applied in writing and reading (Wragg 2000).

Experimentation is another method that children use unconsciously to learn. Skills that involve the use of logic are developed when a kid uses clay to mold a house or to form a person. This is a method that is used in counting, finding cause and effect and generally attempting to solve problems. Wood blocks are used to try and build a steady house, plates required for lunch are counted and water is poured from a jug into a cup to determine the number of cups that fill a jug. Experimentations form the basis for understanding more complex concepts like mathematical problems, science and thinking at a higher level.

During play, children also develop social skills as they share play objects and interact. They learn the skill of cooperation and listening to other people, supporting their opinions and empathizing. This also promotes the child’s health (Pollard 1996).


Children learn most when they have a supportive and qualified teacher, supportive parents and adults that act as role models. These people should therefore understand how they contribute to the child’s growth. Teachers are therefore supposed to respond to play by encouraging the children, extend play by providing more play learning activities and guide the children in their learning experiences. They should also assess development of the children by observing their activities, listening to them and being a role model (Pollard 1996).


Carini, P. 1986. Building from children’s strength, Journal of Education, vol. 168, no. 3, pp. 13-24.

Dewey, J. 1956. The child and the curriculum, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. 1969. The psychology of the child, New York, Basic.

Pollard, A. 1996. Reflective teaching, New York, New York University Press.

Ruiz, Shelley. How children learn. (2009).

Silverman, Robert. 1992. Educational psychology, Florida, St. Lucie Press.

Theories of child development. Web.

Wragg, C. 2000. An introduction to classroom observation. London, Oxford Press.

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ChalkyPapers. "The Way Children Learn, Drawing on the Findings of Research." June 30, 2022.